De Chirico, the Situationists, and architectural morphology

It was exactly one year ago today that I posted this brief synopsis of the history of Situationist International. And coincidentally I found myself reading the situationists and the city (ed.Tom McDonough) on the metro today. In the first essay by Ivan Chtcheglov, one of the first to put the theoretical ideas of the Situationist movement down on paper, he refers to a painting by Giorgio De Chirico, Melancholy and Mystery of the Street.

Side note: I found the book at a shop in New York that I only discovered two days before I moved to Madrid. Van Alen Books at 30 W. 22nd Street is a required stop for anyone interested in architecture, and the design of the tiny store itself is uncommon. It made me kind of sad to be leaving nyc, so I made sure to buy two books as inspiration for my new adventures. One is the situationists book I mentioned and another titled An attempt at exhausting a place in Paris by Georges Perec, in which he sits at different locations in Paris and records his observations of otherwise overlooked details.

Giorgio De Chirico, Melancholy and Mystery of a Street, 1914

De Chirico painted urban spaces that seem to contain the dual sentiments of emptiness and possibility. He is a visual narrator of the hidden layers of the city, using strong symbolism and oddly placed shadows for emphasis of the ominous – or promising – aspects of the story. I wrote about his American contemporary, Edward Hopper, here. Both painters capture the essence of the street to convey a distinct emotion, and through the artists eyes we uncover hidden aspects of a place and understand it on a new, previously unseen level.

After reading so much about the Situationists, I’m longing for Paris. BUT, being that I am in Madrid, these concepts can easily apply to the urban milieu “aqui”.

SI fought valiantly against the sterile modernization of urban spaces in and around Paris, through artwork, performance, film and architecture. They were preoccupied with the history of the city, as successive layers of each generation add to or cover the remnants of the past. Clean, unfriendly and overly geometric architecture doesn’t add any life, character or play to the city, and in their opinion, suppresses the potential for creative living.

In the introduction of the book, McDonough describes their views: “…cities were for them profoundly historical landscapes, whose current appearances were shaped – as geological strata underlay physical landscapes – by the successive events that time has buried, though never completely effaced.” Their desire to reconnect with the history of the city, in particular the radical and revolutionary legacy, reminds me of my thesis exhibition that told the story of the 1920 Wall Street bombing. Seeing that event as a precedent for the current events is timely, considering that the attack targeted J.P.Morgan bank as a symbol of unfettered capitalism.

America’s First Age of Terrorism, an installation that
tells the story of the 1920 Wall Street bombing.
Images from my thesis installation at Pratt.

Also, I learned a new term to describe this idea: architectural morphology. A micro level of urban morphology, it is the study of the layers of history and forces that have created the built environment. Love it.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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